The Orchestra helping those living with Dementia

Written by Active Minds on Monday the 18th of July 2016.


Music can have a profoundly stimulating effect on people living with dementia and it can help them to express themselves, communicate with others and reminisce. Listening to favourite songs and new music can help stimulate cognitive processes by tapping into the creative parts of the brain. Music allows a meaningful connection to the past and opens up a way of using songs to associate with particular memories, people and places.

The Bournemouth University Dementia Institute are a specialist unit that combine their own research, education and expertise to find new and experimental ways of working with people who live with dementia. They work on creating inclusive and supportive environments for people, with the overall aim of improving the lives of people living with dementia.

For the past 2 years, BUDI has been running its very own orchestra and involving up to 20 people who live with dementia. The scheme has funding from the Arts Council and the BBC, which shows their commitment to the idea that the arts and creative activities have a powerful, wide-ranging role in society. The professional orchestra provides the main soundtrack and works with participants and encourages them to play violins, guitars and coconut shells to the beats and rhythms of songs. Performances are put on in front of a small audience.

Projects such as this create an accommodating and collaborative activity for people to get involved in. One of the main aims of the orchestra and BUDI in general is to demonstrate how people living with dementia can learn new skills. There is still a stigma attached to dementia, even though the disease affects everyone in different ways and the orchestra gets people involved and teaches them new, stimulating skills.

Being part of a group and all working together to reach a common goal can really improve people’s feelings of self-worth and increase their self-esteem. The re-enforcement of someone’s identity is a positive part of getting involved in activities. Living with dementia can cause people to feel frustration because of new limitations and challenges. Finding tasks more difficult means that confidence can naturally drop, which can lead to people withdrawing from activities and isolating themselves.

The orchestra is a fun, exciting way of creating bonds between members and taking part in a task that invites a sense of achievement along the way, especially during performances in front of an audience. The socially beneficial aspects of being part of a group are there for all to see, as people can chat and express themselves through music and the conversations that it starts between people.

Music has the potential to offer a sensory stimulating experience and the orchestra is just one example of the type of experimental activities that BUDI are putting on to change the status quo and challenge stigma attached to dementia. The orchestra shows that a sense of achievement, a socially inclusive environment and learning new skills can all help to make people living with dementia maintain a good quality of life and challenge themselves in the process.